Wondering how to pitch an idea to an agent? Some writers send me (and other agents) a prequery message. It goes something like this:
Hi! I have a project and it seems just like something you might like. It’s about… (brief description) and I’m all done with it. I’d love to submit. Are you accepting submissions? Should I go ahead and submit?
How to Pitch an Idea: Don’t Send The Prequery Email
This is a useless email and one I’m not fond of answering. If I wasn’t accepting submissions, my email address wouldn’t be plastered all over the Internet. And I can’t tell anything about the project until I read the writing, so I don’t know if I’ll like it or not just from the few lines of description in your prequery.
The submission guidelines are a no-brainer. I request the manuscript query letter and the first pages of prose (or the full picture book manuscript) copied and pasted into the body of an email message. The word “Query” must appear in the subject line. No snail mail or attachments. If you want to know how to pitch an idea, this is it: create a strong manuscript, and follow the submission guidelines.
How to Pitch an Idea: Revise and Submit
My tip for how to pitch an idea: just do it. If you’re on the fence about submitting, maybe go back and revise a few times. If you don’t know whether or not I’ll like something, you really can’t tell that for sure without showing me your submission — hence the uselessness of the prequery.
All I’m ever going to say in response to a prequery is: “Sure, send it along and follow our submission guidelines!” So let’s cut out the needless back and forth. Submit away!
Are you struggling with how to pitch an idea effectively? Hire my query editing services and I’ll guide you through the process.
22 Replies to “How to Pitch an Idea: The Prequery Message”
It feels like that’s kind of like calling someone on the phone to find out if it’s OK to call them on the phone. 🙂
Also, you shouldn’t prequery an agent’s clients.
Don’t find the client’s email address on their website and send them a quick note asking if you should query their agent. She’s my agent because I think she’s a badass–yes query her and let her decide.
Don’t abuse the twitter DM system by sending the client a 140 character description of your book for me to ask my agent about. I followed you because I thought you’d be interesting, not annoying.
Don’t (for the love of cheese) search the entire internet, for a client’s cell phone number and call them to ask about their agent’s submission guidelines. How the helldamncrap did you find my phone number anyway? I’ve been trying to recreate that google search for weeks.
Don’t email your book to the client and ask if they would forward it on to their agent.
Don’t pin down the client at a writer’s meeting and ask them if they’d “prime” your agent for you. That’s just creepy–and possibly a little dirty.
Jamie, yikes!! That’s GAWDawful.
Mary, I agree that’s just so pointless.
Jaime, that’s just eeewww, really high creep factor. I’d be weirded out too.
It doesn’t seem like these people did any amount of research into the publishing business. If they had, they’d just query, already.
Mary, way too kind to these people. There should at least be a four-letter word in that response.
Jamie – super awkward…
Wow. Jamie, that is just not okay. Yuck!
If people have done ANY amount of research, it is easy to find out how and what to query. If they haven’t taken the time to learn what your submission guidelines are, they don’t deserve the time it takes to send a response.
I can’t imagine someone asking you if you accept submissions, because you’re pretty open about it lol. But, some agents are a little more vague, so I can see someone being trying to be polite and prequerying. However, I totally agree, it seems like an extra, wasteful step.
Jamie- I’ve got this idea…Do you mind talking to Mary about it for me??? Please???
When copying and pasting the first 10 pages into the body of an email is it appropriate to do double or single space? Any formatting suggestions?
Jamie, wow. So it’s not just Mary who gets stalked, but her clients too! It’s tough being one of the cool kidlit crowd!
Seriously, though, that does sound awful. Awful because you want to be available for genuinely interested readers/fans to be able to contact you, but not so you can be hassled by complete strangers with only their own interests at heart.
Okay, I have a question. It feels like the answer should be really obvious, but it’s been confusing me. When an agent asks for the first 10 pages (or the first 3, or 50) do they mean 8.5″x11″ pages or “book” pages? Because there’s a big difference in word count there. :/
Thanks for this blog, Mary. It has been so helpful, and I never comment to say so. (I’ll have to change that.)
You know it’s funny a friend of mine just ask me if they should email an agent first before sending them a submission. I told them absolutely not. I told them the best thing to do is follow the agency’s sub guidelines and if they wanted to do a bit more research to look up the agency/agent in the 2010 edition of guide to literary agents.
Now, I’ll send them along a link to this blog post too. 🙂
I’ve reached out to an agent’s client before, but not to indirectly query. Just to talk shop and find out their experiences. That’s freaky, Jamie. Especially the cell phone thing. Next it will be picture book bunnies boiling on the stove. . .
‘Picture book bunnies boiling on the stove’ – love that!
Bongo, you are so fickle.
Wow, it’s hard to believe you get “queries” like this! I agree with the comments above. If you do even the slightest degree of research, this should never happen. Thanks for passing this along. I feel better now!
Anita, copy/paste the 10 pages into the body of the email, single spaced, but double space between paragraphs.
Melody, the agent typically is asking for the first 10 manuscript pages. Don’t get hung up on little details, like if your sample is actually 8 pages, or 13 pages. Anywhere within the ballpark will do fine.
Mary, if you reply to them at all, you should be nominated for sainthood.
And Jamie “prime your agent for me” ooo- I’m still shuddering.
It’s hard out there for a writer, I guess. Dang. Jamie–that’s the worst thing I’ve heard in a while. Sorry you’re being bothered. Now then, Mary, I’d like to tell you about my query before I query…
Jamie – I think Bongo should sic one of his chinchillas on the weirdo.
Jamie, icky experiences. Although hopefully it was only one deranged individual who couldn’t take “no stalking” for an answer.
Mary, I have prequeried agents before, but I hope my situation was a little different. Agents can be very vague about what constitutes a chapter book. When they say, “I accept PB, MG and YA,” that doesn’t always mean they will consider a chapter book. It also doesn’t mean they won’t. Likewise, I’ve found agents who claim to rep “all genres of juvenile lit,” who really don’t include chapter books in that all-encompassing definition.
If an agent isn’t clear on his/her definitions/preferences, I will send a short email along these lines: “I noted in your guidelines that you consider PB, MG and YA. Would this include a 12,000 word chapter book?”
I’ve had enough no resonses to validate the wisdom of doing this. I think in the end, I’ve wasted less time–mine and the agent’s–with this method.
Is this an acceptable prequery?
Mary, I was wondering if I could send you an e-mail asking if I could e-mail about some revision questions. Or maybe I should call first????
Or I could always send up smoke signals.
Yeah. Sorry you have pre-queries clogging your inbox.
Mary, as always, thanks for sharing your experiences.
Like Cat, I wonder about the acceptability of emails for clarification purposes. For example, if it is unclear whether or not an agent represents rhyming PB’s, is it OK to email and ask? Or is inquiring actually a bigger bother than submitting something that doesn’t suit?